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Peak experiences as acute identity experiences


I wish to underscore one main paradox I have dealt with above (Number 2), which we must face even if we don't understand it. The goal of identity (self-actualization, autonomy, individuation, Horney's real self, authenticity, etc.) seems to be simultaneously an end-goal in itself, and also a transitional goal, a rite of passage, a step along the path to the transcendence of identity. This is like saying its function is to erase itself. Put the other way about, if our goal is the Eastern one of ego-transcendence and obliteration, of leaving behind self-consciousness and self-observation, of fusion with the world and identification with it (Bucke), of homonomy (Angyal), then it looks as if the best path to this goal for most people is via achieving identity, a strong real self, and via basic-need-gratification rather than via asceticism.

Perhaps it is relevant to this theory that my young subjects tend to reporttwo kinds of physical reaction to peak experiences. One is excitement and high tension (“I feel wild, like jumping up and down, like yelling out loud”). The other is relaxation, peacefulness, quietness, the feeling of stillness. For instance, after a beautiful sex experience, or esthetic experience or creative furor,either is possible—either continued high excitement, inability to sleep, or lack of wish for it, even loss of appetite, constipation, etc.; or complete relaxation, inaction, deep sleep, etc. What this means I don't know. Perhaps the first is not a complete discharge.

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Additional information

A. H. Maslow, Ph.D., is a Professor of Psychology at Brandeis University. He is the author of “Motivation and Personality,” and other books and articles.

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Maslow, A.H. Peak experiences as acute identity experiences. Am J Psychoanal 21, 254–262 (1961).

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